Tillerson Was Wrong

Rex Tillerson is about to discover the perils of crossing Donald Trump. He goofed and the only course of action he has left is to get out. In Trumpworld that is how all internal disputes are resolved. The world according to Trump is a dangerous, confusing, and chaotic experiment in redefining right from wrong, up from down, positive from negative and virtue from vice. But rather than continue to scrutinize in detail how we got here or how unfortunate it is that we are here let us for the sake of sanity accept that we are here and until that changes figure out how best to survive it.

First and foremost we must if not accept at least acknowledge that there are no countervailing or controlling forces within the Trump universe that can influence his decision-making. This is sad because his decisions are so transactional and devoid of thoughtfulness that to the rational among us there is a visceral and often incredulous reaction if not overreaction.

Do not mistake my intention here to rationalize or minimize the corrosive impacts of the ill-advised ramblings of a certifiable madman, but rather to see them in a spirit of trying to chart a path that will avoid catastrophe. Let me illustrate the latest in a continuous string of embarrassing situations that seem to be unleashed from the den of horrors that has become the White House.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is considered in relative terms to be one of a handful of adults to occupy senior level status in the Trump administration. He along with Defense Secretary Mattis and Chief of Staff Kelly are often linked together as the troika constituting adult supervision for the man-child president. Why that is so is due more to the fact that the supporting cast of Cabinet members and senior advisers is weak rather than that these three musketeers are in fact strong. Remember confusion reins supreme in a world where up is down so follow along here because most explanations will contain double negatives rather than anything representing a positive.

Tillerson recently was reported to have described the president in the presence of others as a “effing moron.” He has not denied having said it and it is generally accepted as being factual. Now to Trump haters there was a certain degree of satisfaction and a grudging vindication upon learning of something they had known all along. But let me state categorically that in this instance Rex Tillerson exhibited the same juvenile instinct that consumes Trump himself. In fact I will go so far as to say that in this instance Tillerson was wrong to have said it and has now put himself in a worse position vis-a-vis the president than prior to the utterance. This is really saying something because his influence and standing were already virtually nonexistent. It seems almost certain that he will soon be the former Secretary of State. Maybe that is his plan to extricate himself from the nut house but even if so it is such a damning indictment of the current administration that we must all be worried if not scared.

I have worked for many elected political leaders over nearly a 40-year career in government and politics and even when I had disagreements with a boss on an important policy decision would never entertain expressing frustration with anyone, I mean anyone, other than the principal him- or herself. I have made impassioned presentations to governors, U.S. senators, mayors, and Cabinet secretaries serving two different administrations and there are times when for any one of a number of reasons they may have disagreed with my recommendation. Yet I never took it upon myself to publicly question their judgement nor would I ever criticize them in a way that could potentially diminish their authority. You offer your best judgement and you weigh the importance of any disagreement and if you simply cannot accept rejection you resign and move on.

The fact that Tillerson allowed himself to be torpedoed by others supposedly on the same team shows the degree to which he himself is not sufficiently experienced to occupy the august position in which he serves. Remember, this is the person fourth in line to succession to the presidency. Yet in the world of government, politics, diplomacy, and leadership he is a relative novice. At this point he would be well served to simply walk away. This President does not afford his subordinates a graceful exit, that is just the stark reality of his temperament.

But, one might argue, is he not showing his independence and a virtuous perspective by questioning the president’s intellectual ability? Well, no he is not. Politics 101, Mr. Secretary, is to present your arguments to the president in the strongest terms possible and if in fact you feel strongly enough that you lack the sufficient influence that should be accorded your position then you have two options: one, resign in protest; two, make the best of a bad decision, modify it through administrative execution if possible, and continue to press for different outcomes on important issues that will come due in short order.

One of the smartest lessons I learned early in my career was to never “show your ass” to those you were in disagreement with. This is a crude expression but aptly illustrates that you should never allow your position to be denigrated because your ego is bruised and in politics you very well may need the support of your opponent on any issue when the next issue comes up. In this instance Tillerson has laid bare his backside for all to see and he is paying the price for such foolishness.

In Trumpworld there is a heavy price exacted from those perceived to display disloyalty. But similarly Trump also expects “his” troops to exhibit strength, hence the liberal dose of military brass in his hierarchy of important advisers. The trick, I would surmise, to having an impact in this administration is to first argue forcefully, and second to realize when continued argumentation is futile. Boxing yourself in a corner by limiting your options to either resigning or being embarrassed is a miserable existence for sure and certainly not a sustainable one.

I have no respect for Sessions or Tillerson or Mattis, or Kelly or for that matter anyone serving this president. I have no respect for the president. So let us not be manipulated into a position where we develop at least some manner of empathy for any of these characters. They must measure their own worth as human beings, and importantly they must measure their worth as protectors of the constitution and our democracy and the citizens they represent and make decisions about loyalty and public service accordingly.

This is the reality in which we unfortunately live for at least the time being. It may change, but until it does those occupying positions of power within the Trump administration must exhibit the intestinal fortitude to place their duty and honor to the country above their egos and pride. Trump is a disaster, but his advisers and senior level administrators are enablers.

The allure of power, whether phantom or real, can weaken even those thought to be responsible adults. Trump derives great pleasure in breaking people down. He pretends to value strength in others while he is absolutely petrified that it reveals weakness in himself. The revolving door will spin nonstop as long as Trump remains atop the hierarchy. Even his family members cannot escape his wrath. Lets hope that as we continue on with this perilous adventure the nation is not irreparably harmed, although it appears more daunting as each passing day reveals the extent of the madness that governs us.